The People of Gibraltar

1895 - Joshua Slocum - The Spray

Sir Frederick Carrington and Horatio J. Sprague

Joshua Slocum was born in Nova Scotia in 1844 but took American citizenship when he was 25. In 1895 Slocum sailed out of Boston in his 11m sloop Spray, a rather worse for wear oyster dredger that he had meticulously repaired. 

Joshua Slocum

Slocum crossed the Atlantic meaning to sail towards toward the Suez Canal was warned while he was in Gibraltar of pirates in the Mediterranean. To avoid them he recrossed the the Atlantic, and headed down the Brazilian coast, and headed for the Strait of Magellan. 

In 1898, more than 3 years and 74 000 km later, Joshua Slocum entered Newport, Rhode Island. At the ripe old age of 54 he had become as first person  to sail around the world solo.His notes on his experiences were published In 1900 as Sailing alone around the World.

Chapter IV was all about Gibraltar - or perhaps not. Although there were 20 000 Gibraltarians living on the Rock at the time - he never gives them even a passing mention.

Sailing Alone Around the World
Early the next morning, August 4, I discovered Spain. I saw fires on shore, and knew that the country was inhabited. The Spray continued on her course till well in with the land, which was that about Trafalgar. 

Then keeping away a point, she passed through the Strait of Gibraltar, where she cast anchor at 3 P. M. of the same day, less than twenty-nine days from Cape Sable. At the finish of this preliminary trip I found myself in excellent health, not overworked or cramped, but as well as ever in my life, though I was as thin as a reef-point.

Coming to anchor at Gibraltar. 

Two Italian barks, which had been close alongside at daylight, I saw long after I had anchored, passing up the African side of the strait. The Spray had sailed them both hull down before she reached Tarifa. So far as I know, the Spray beat everything going across the Atlantic except the steamers.

All was well, but I had forgotten to bring a bill of health from Horta, and so when the fierce old port doctor came to inspect there was a row. That, however, was the very thing needed. If you want to get on well with a true Britisher you must first have a deuce of a row with him. I knew that well enough, and so I fired away, shot for shot, as best I could. 

"Well, yes," the doctor admitted at last, "your crew are healthy enough, no doubt, but who knows the diseases of your last port?"—a reasonable enough remark. "We ought to put you in the fort, sir!" he blustered; "but never mind. Free pratique, sir! Shove off, cockswain!" And that was the last I saw of the port doctor.

But on the following morning a steam-launch, much longer than the Spray, came alongside,—or as much of her as could get alongside,—with compliments from the senior naval officer, Admiral Bruce, saying there was a berth for the Spray at the arsenal. This was around at the new mole. I had anchored at the old mole, among the native craft, where it was rough and uncomfortable. 

Of course I was glad to shift, and did so as soon as possible, thinking of the great company the Spray would be in among battle-ships such as the Collingwood, Balfleur, and Cormorant, which were at that time stationed there, and on board all of which I was entertained, later, most royally.

HMS Collingwood ( Max Parsons )

'"Put it thar!' as the Americans say," was the salute I got from Admiral Bruce, when I called at the admiralty to thank him for his courtesy of the berth, and for the use of the steam-launch which towed me into dock. "About the berth, it is all right if it suits, and we'll tow you out when you are ready to go. 

But, say, what repairs do you want? Ahoy the Hebe, can you spare your sailmaker? The Spray wants a new jib. Construction and repair, there! will you see to the Spray? Say, old man, you must have knocked the devil out of her coming over alone in twenty-nine days! But we'll make it smooth for you here!" Not even her Majesty's ship the Collingwood was better looked after than the Spray at Gibraltar.

 The Spray at anchor off Gibraltar. 

Later in the day came the hail: "Spray ahoy! Mrs. Bruce would like to come on board and shake hands with the Spray. Will it be convenient to-day!" "Very!" I joyfully shouted.
On the following day Sir F. Carrington, at the time governor of Gibraltar, with other high officers of the garrison, and all the commanders of the battle-ships, came on board and signed their names in the Spray's log-book. Again there was a hail, "Spray ahoy!" "Hello!" "Commander Reynolds's compliments. You are invited on board H.M.S. Collingwood, 'at home' at 4:30 P.M. Not later than 5:30 P.M." 

Major General Sir Frederick Carrington was the commander of the infantry brigade in Gibraltar. The Governor at the time was Sir Robbert Biddulp - probably away on an extended on holiday at the time.

I had already hinted at the limited amount of my wardrobe, and that I could never succeed as a dude. "You are expected, sir, in a stovepipe hat and a claw-hammer coat!" "Then I can't come." "Dash it! come in what you have on; that is what we mean." "Aye, aye, sir!" The Collingwood's cheer was good, and had I worn a silk hat as high as the moon I could not have had a better time or been made more at home. An Englishman, even on his great battle-ship, unbends when the stranger passes his gangway, and when he says "at home" he means it.

That one should like Gibraltar would go without saying. How could one help loving so hospitable a place? Vegetables twice a week and milk every morning came from the palatial grounds of the admiralty. "Spray ahoy!" would hail the admiral. "Spray ahoy!" "Hello!" "To-morrow is your vegetable day, sir." "Aye, aye, sir!"

I rambled much about the old city, and a gunner piloted me through the galleries of the rock as far as a stranger is permitted to go. There is no excavation in the world, for military purposes, at all approaching these of Gibraltar in conception or execution. Viewing the stupendous works, it became hard to realize that one was within the Gibraltar of his little old Morse geography.

Jedidiah Morse and his Geography Made Easy first published in 1784 is probably the best known of any American geography author,

Before sailing I was invited on a picnic with the governor, the officers of the garrison, and the commanders of the war-ships at the station; and a royal affair it was. Torpedo-boat No. 91, going twenty-two knots, carried our party to the Morocco shore and back. The day was perfect—too fine, in fact, for comfort on shore, and so no one landed at Morocco. No. 91 trembled like an aspen-leaf as she raced through the sea at top speed. Sub-lieutenant Boucher, apparently a mere lad, was in command, and handled his ship with the skill of an older sailor. 

On the following day I lunched with General Carrington, the governor, at Line Wall House, which was once the Franciscan convent. In this interesting edifice are preserved relics of the fourteen sieges which Gibraltar has seen. On the next day I supped with the admiral at his residence, the palace, which was once the convent of the Mercenaries. At each place, and all about, I felt the friendly grasp of a manly hand, that lent me vital strength to pass the coming long days at sea. 

I must confess that the perfect discipline, order, and cheerfulness at Gibraltar were only a second wonder in the great stronghold. The vast amount of business going forward caused no more excitement than the quiet sailing of a well-appointed ship in a smooth sea. No one spoke above his natural voice, save a boatswain's mate now and then. The Hon. Horatio J. Sprague, ( see LINK )  the venerable United States consul at Gibraltar, honored the Spray with a visit on Sunday, August 24, and was much pleased to find that our British cousins had been so kind to her.